The U.S. is denying that President Donald Trump offered to lift sanctions on Iran in order to secure a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the United Nations General Assembly -- contradicting a claim by Rouhani that he turned down the last-minute offer.
After landing in Tehran, Rouhani said that he turned down the offer of sanctions relief and a meeting because the atmosphere was "toxic. Earlier in the week he had acknowledged to ABC News "World News Tonight" anchor David Muir that European diplomats had tried to set up a meeting, but that Iran didn’t want Europeans to be intermediaries.
“We are fully capable to talk to America by ourselves or vice versa,” Rouhani told Muir. “Under the current conditions, I do not see [a meeting] as productive or positive.”
When asked about the comments, a senior State Department official denied that was true: "The answer is no."
The eleventh-hour effort to bring the two leaders together was orchestrated by European leaders, led by French President Emmanuel Macron. As ABC News reported Thursday, a senior European diplomat said that after Macron and Trump met Tuesday afternoon, Macron met with Rouhain for at least the second time during the U.N. General Assembly.
The French president pressed Rouhani and told him it's "now time for them to move if they want to go forward, to have less sanctions and go for a deal," the diplomat told ABC News. But the Iranians "were not ready to go for this sort of meeting," the diplomat said.
In the ABC interview Wednesday, Rouhani implied that he turned down the chance to talk to Trump because there was no offer to lift sanctions.
"America says that it will put Iran under maximum pressure until we talk and negotiate," he said. "America must do away with that precondition, take away all of the sanctions and maximum pressure, and wish to conduct talks."
But on Friday, Rouhani said he believed the U.S. was not negotiating in good faith.
"The problem here is that under sanctions and maximum pressure, even if we want to negotiate with the Americans within the framework of P5+1, nobody can predict about the end and upshot of the negotiation," he said, referencing the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, the group that negotiated the original nuclear deal with Iran.
There were no meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials during the General Assembly, the senior State Department official said.
While the State Department denied that the U.S. side had floated the idea of lifting sanctions in exchange for talks, the European diplomat said Trump, at least, seemed open to some action on sanctions. "It depends on who you speak to," the diplomat said.
While the State Department denied that the U.S. side had floated the idea of lifting sanctions in exchange for talks, the European diplomat said Trump, at least, seemed open to some action on sanctions. "It depends on who you speak to," the diplomat said, noting Trump has already voiced a desire for dialogue.
Trump’s top advisers, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have pushed to keep "maximum pressure" in place and have condemned any effort at mediation that involves providing economic relief to Iran.
"There are still those today who think, 'Boy, if we just give Iran just a little bit more money, they'll become a peaceful nation.'" Pompeo said last week in Abu Dhabi. "We can see that that does not work."